Have you wanted to explore nature journaling with your kids, but you’re not sure how to start? Never fear! We’ve got your back. In this article we’ll answer all the nature journaling questions you’ve been dying to ask.
What’s the deal with nature journaling anyway?
It seems like nature journaling is all the rage all of a sudden. If you’ve been wondering why, you’re not alone. Between all the Youtube tutorials and beautiful Instagram posts, it can seem like nature journaling is taking the homeschool world by storm.
It turns out nature journaling has been around for centuries. The 19th century educator, Charlotte Mason, advocated weekly nature journaling as a way to train children in focused attention and cultivate a love of the outdoors. Naturalist John Muir used his extensive nature journals as a way to capture the beauty he found in his favorite wild places. If you desire to cultivate a sense of wonder in your children and give them a love for truth and beauty, nature journaling definitely deserves a place in your homeschool.
What supplies do I need?
You can think of a nature journal as a scrapbook of the outdoors. It’s a way to document what you see in nature. You’ll learn to identify the things you see, notice details that you passed by before, and record memories that you’ve shared together in nature.
To get started you’ll need a notebook for each participant. A spiral-bound journal that can lay flat is ideal. If you can, choose a notebook with a hardbound cover to protect your pages. Thicker paper will be a plus if you branch out into watercolor painting, but it’s not essential to start, especially if your kids are very young.
Good quality colored pencils or watercolor paints will allow you to capture more detail, but choosing just the right materials really isn’t the most important thing. If searching for the perfect supplies is going to delay you getting started, just begin with whatever drawing materials you have on hand.
How exactly do I do this?
Nature journaling seems complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. Just take a walk in nature and record one thing that stood out to you. Your journaling can take whatever form feels most natural to you – it could be writing a narrative or poem, drawing, painting, making a list. Find what feels authentic and enjoyable for you.
What you choose to make note of will be unique to you as well. You can record something you found, something you saw, or something you did. Be on the lookout for interesting animals, birds or plants. Notice as many details as you can and try to capture them in your journal. Or you can draw a fun adventure you had: a giant rock you scaled, a riverbed you explored, or a picnic you shared with friends. Be sure to jot down the date.
When you get home, try to identify some of the flowers, trees, animals, bugs or birds you encountered. Use the Internet, a field guide, or any nature books you have on hand to label your journal entries.
As you get more accustomed to nature journaling, you might enjoy observing specimens in the field more closely in which case you can bring along binoculars or a magnifying glass. You can also experiment with journaling out in the field. Pack a backpack with your nature journal, pencils, water color paints, and a small jar of water. You can spread a blanket and really take your time capturing the details of your subject.
What should I include in a nature journal?
Give your children freedom to record what captures their interest. These probably won’t be the same things you value as significant. That’s okay! No two nature journals will be the same.
Let your children know that their nature journal is special. It’s not for scribbling or doodling cartoon characters. Ask that they do careful work, but beyond that let your children make their nature journals their own.
They can decide what they want to remember from their adventure, how they want to record it, how big to make it, what colors to use. Don’t obsess over the details or whether the finished product is photo-worthy.
Here are some ideas of what other families have included in their nature journals:
· Sketches or paintings
· Pressed leaves or flowers
· Family photos
· Brochures or other written material from a
· Magazine cut outs or postcards
· A list of birds or animals you saw
· A narrative description of an adventure or
How often should we do this?
Many families find that once a week is the right amount of time to devote to nature journaling. A weekly rhythm is frequent enough to build a consistent habit of observation and to practice your artistic skills, but not so all-consuming that it crowds other subject matter out of the schedule.
In some seasons, you might find that nature is calling to you more than once a week; at other times you may need to drop nature journaling completely for a season. That’s perfectly fine. If you need to take a break, you can always start back up again.
What if my kids hate this?
It’s not unusual for children to balk at a new experience (in fact, many grownups do as well). Your attitude will set the tone. Don’t make this an assignment you’re nagging your kids to do. Present it as a family activity that you are participating in as well. When your children see you expressing curiosity about a bird or flower and laboring lovingly over the pages of your own nature journal, they will eventually be inspired to value nature journaling themselves.
Getting together with friends is another great way to get kids on board. Find another family or two that is interested in giving nature journaling a try. Meeting up for a hike, a picnic and some journaling time is a lovely way to spend an afternoon.
For more ideas on how to lead children of different ages to fall in love with nature journaling, see these tips from Jane Claire Lambert.
When should I introduce nature journaling to my kids?
Children as young as 3 can delight in nature journaling. If your child can draw on paper with crayons, then they can begin recording adventures in their nature journal.
My child wants me to draw a bird/squirrel/flower for her in her nature journal. Should I?
Small children often ask an adult to draw something for them. In my experience, this usually ends in frustration for both the parent and the child!
Instead of drawing for them, try pointing out details that will help them take the next step. For example, “I’m noticing that this rock looks darker on this side, but it has white specks over here” or “Do you see how this leaf has jagged edges?” These kind of observations can help your child move forward with their drawing.
While I try not to take over my children’s artwork, I do find it is helpful to step in and record text for a child who hasn’t mastered writing yet. If my child asks, I will write the date or the name of a bird or plant for them. I’m also happy to record any memories they have of our nature walk. Getting these memories down in a child’s own words is priceless.
I’m terrible at art. Are you sure I can do this?
The goal of nature journaling is not producing museum quality artwork. It’s much more about cultivating the habits of wonder, curiosity, attention, and observation. It’s about slowing down and experiencing God’s creation with all of your senses. These habits will ignite a heart of worship in you and your children that will bring you joy throughout your life.
Artistic talent is not necessary for successful nature journaling. But if you make nature journaling a regular practice, you will likely see your drawings and paintings improve over time. Art is not purely a matter of natural talent. It is a skill that can be learned. Search out mentors online or in real life who can teach you the techniques you need to grow in your artistic ability.
We hope this helps give you a better understanding of what nature journaling is all about. We can’t wait to hear about your nature journaling adventures!
If you’d like some more ideas to inspire you in your nature journaling, we have a great set of Nature Study Printables that will get your kids out and having fun in nature. We also have a set of Wildflower Printables to nurture your children’s appreciation the flowers you encounter.